It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear having good sleep and less stress in your life will help you lose body fat and keep a trim waistline. Not getting enough sleep can lead to more stress and more stress can lead to poor sleep. It’s a vicious cycle that few of us can break in today’s industrialized world. Throw in social media, 24/7 access to electronics, TPS reports (Office Space reference), and more, it should come as no surprise we are stressed to the gills and sleep deprived. But, how do we get more sleep and become less stressed? I’m sure you’re thinking, “Here’s another ‘get 8 hours of sleep and meditate article’ that I’ve read before.” Well, I will show you the easiest can be done right now to help with your sleep and stress but before we do we must first understand what’s happening underneath the surface. Time to take a look at our brains!
Let’s start with sleep. Nearly all animals sleep, in one form or another. The reason we sleep is quite simple: we need our body and brain to heal. The body has a great system in place to help us with this process. The best part about this system is that it’s pretty much an “on/off switch”. You can’t be in between the two. You are either asleep or you are awake. When we don’t sleep enough there are 2 significant negative side effects. First, your cognitive function goes to crap. Most of you know this. What some of you might not know is that after several days of poor sleep you are NOT aware of how poorly your brain is functioning. You’ve become used to how your brain is operating and that prevents you from noticing significant changes. Second, our “lipostat” (the internal system that recognizes if we need energy), becomes impaired. In other words, our brain thinks we’re energy deprived and kicks on our hunger hormone, ghrelin. You don’t physically need more food to function, but you think you do. The part that should be even more concerning is that you brain tells you to go after the foods that are the most satisfying, which tend to be very high in calories and simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugars) and low in fiber, protein, and fat. These foods have a very low satiating affect so you are more likely to overeat these foods than, say, an apple or a piece of steak.
Numerous studies have shown if you sleep less than 6 hours or less per night then you are more likely to gain weight over your lifetime. The negative consequences don’t stop there. In addition, you are more likely to suffer from other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, etc. So, if you’re lean and think, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about sleep. I’m not fat,” just remember the other consequences, which include dying at a younger age compared to the rest of the population.
So, how do we improve our sleep?
Interestingly, not all of us need 8 to 9 hours of sleep, although, that is the generally accepted sleep requirement by most healthcare practitioners (and for good reason…. because it works!). Some of us won’t have our brains or hormones affected negatively if we sleep less than 9 hours a night but it is strongly recommended to not sleep less than 7 hours. Some of us might need 10 hours. It really depends on how much sleep you need to function each day. When in doubt, sleep more! If you’re thinking, “Great! I’ll sleep 12 hours this weekend!” think again. Sleeping more than 10 hours can actually have a negative impact on your health. Also, studies have shown sleeping 5 hours one night and 10 hours the next night on a consistent basis does not improve your health. Keep your hours consistent as often as you can.
Due to our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm we have a special hormone that’s released when we’re tired. It’s called melatonin (there are plenty of products on the market that help release this hormone if we’re having trouble sleeping). Melatonin is typically released at nighttime when our body wants to sleep. Blue light controls this releasing effect. It’s part of the reason we like to be awake during the day time (think big, blue sky). Unfortunately, many electronic devices we use, from TVs to cell phones, emit this blue light. It might not be as big and powerful as the sky above us but it our body and brain don’t know this so melatonin is not released and we stay away even longer, or have trouble going to sleep.
The good news is that most phones and computers have a light dimming effect and you can change the background to a “warm” color such as orange. Look for apps such as “Twilight” and use it on your phone and tablet to set an auto dimmer/color change based on the time of day (one less thing to remember). Some computers can download a utility called “f.lux” which can do the same things as the “Twilight” app. Finally, you need to sleep in total darkness. Blackout curtains and special goggles called “SCT-Orange safety glasses” by Uvex can help block out all blue light. Your body will think you’re sleeping in a dark cave.
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!